Raising Women’s Voices
From Kartini to the Youth of today…
“The young woman contemplated and fought for a struggle no less arduous than the battle against the occupiers, which is the fight to unshackle women from the subjugation of their own people.”
Who is Kartini?
Women such as Tjut Nyak Dhien, Christina Martha Tiahahu and Nyi Ageng Serang are part of Indonesia’s spectrum of national heroes. Why then has Kartini become the symbol of the Indonesian women’s movement?
Tjut Nyak Dhien and Christina Martha Tiahahu were larger-than-life heroes who stood up against colonial powers to help gain freedom for the people. Kartini on the other hand, was a young woman who thought and fought for a more specific form of resistance intended to free women from the domination of their own people; a struggle as relentless as waging a war against the occupiers.
Kartini remonstrated against the absence of education for girls, lack of freedom of expression for women and a feudal system that imprisons aristocratic women within the walls of the royal palace. She decried on the treatment of women as nothing more than mere chattels for their fathers, brothers and husbands.
The fact that she herself breathed and lived in a social order that was most oppressive towards women – the Javanese feudal culture – meant that she had to bear a very heavy burden.
Kartini may not have defeated the culture that bound her. Her thoughts however, inspire women to have the courage to hold their head high and press forward in shaping a shared culture that serves justice for all.
Raising Women’s Voices
Women are citizens of the world and the state as well as members of society having equal rights as men. This is in keeping with the global recognition of CEDAW as an international instrument and the 1945 Constitution of the Republic of Indonesia.
In reality however, gender inequalities and discrimination against women prevail to this day.
Women’s Liberation, Diversity and the Role of the Younger Generation
Women today are in a more privileged position compared to their forerunners during Kartini’s lifetime. Women now have access to higher education, able to participate in politics, hold seats in parliament and have formal laws that protect them from violence particularly domestic violence.
Despite these advancements, there remains a host of other issues that need to be tackled and fought for. There are at least three main concerns that require urgent attention. First, is to free women from all forms of violence and poverty, and to enable them to participate in politics in its broadest sense. Second, the issue of diversity which has recently taken a setback due to the emergence of groups who tend to resort to violence in claiming the truth. Third, the need to ensure that the younger generation is involved in finding solutions to common concerns of the nation including those pertaining to the discrimination of women. The youth play a strategic role in ensuring the continuity of the women’s movement.
Violence against women that occur in the public and private realms continues to see an upward trend. Women’s participation in politics is still fraught with hurdles or resistance in the public sphere where women are losing ground in the opportunity to engage in politics with a 30% quota for women through a majority vote mechanism imposed by the Constitutional Court. Under such circumstances, women who are still “new” to the political arena must battle against their more seasoned male counterparts. Another issue that continue to be of grave concern is the rampant trafficking of women and children. Violence inflicted on domestic workers, both in the country and outside has not seen any signs of abating. The most recent case involves a woman domestic migrant worker in Malaysia whose entire body was subjected to brutal abuse (see the Siti Hajar case, a migrant worker from Cianjur). More women are also forced to earn a living as sex workers as evident in the Dolly prostitution area in Surabaya which according to data from 2008 accommodates some 8,000 women.
Why are girls the victims of trafficking and thousands of women become sex workers at the Dolly red-light district? This is because women in general bear the brunt of the nation’s povertization, a state of destitution that at times incite acts of desperation and even courage such as the situation experienced by women migrant workers in foreign countries.
How can the voices of these women that rise and fall be duly heard to ensure that they are shielded and given the opportunity to be free from violence and suppression? How can these issues be continuously voiced to the public at large?
Indonesia and its diversity, an undeniable certainty that has long been the pride of the nation is now imperiled by claims of truth touted by certain individuals or minority groups. We have not forgotten on how followers of Ahmadiyah were abused and hounded by a small band of people in the name of the “most truthful group”. In addition to instilling a sense of fear towards the Ahmadiyahs, this situation has also bred intense apprehension and trauma among women and children.
Laws that undermine national diversity and detrimental to women have also been enacted. These among others are the anti-“pornography” act and local regulations based on Islamic law which inhibit women’s freedom and threaten the preservation of the country’s folk art/traditions.
Another issue of equal importance concerns discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation as inflicted on lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender people. Society still refuses to openly accept the sexual preference of LGBT who continue to be marginalized.
How should women stand on this issue?
The Role of the Younger Generation
By revisiting the history of the nation’s journey, it is clearly apparent that the youth of the country, including young women, had played a crucial role in shaping the course of the people’s struggles. Prominent figures such as Kartini, Siti Soendari, Roehana Kudus and others were the early thinkers and formidable women heroes who have crossed the private threshold into the public domain.
A different strategy is needed today to maintain the role of the modern youth in contributing towards the women’s movement. These strategies may include inter-generational dialogues, their involvement in various campaign activities on issues related to gender, diversity and the role of the younger generation, as well as through contemporary popular mediums such as the arts (stage performance or digital) and public dialogues held in schools, campuses or public places.